in the Sky
By Jennifer Gampell
Negotiating the sprawling maze of vehicular gridlock better known as downtown Bangkok got dramatically easier last December when the city's first rapid transit system opened for business.
The $1.7 billion Skytrain passes by most major hotels and shopping centers in the central and eastern part of the Thai capital, providing a welcome alternative to the city's unreliable taxi corps. For instance, a trip from The Regent hotel to the Jim Thompson's House museum used to take anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic. Now the Skytrain whisks you there in barely 10. And all the signage is in comprehensible English as well as Thai.
The word Skytrain connotes a certain sense of buoyancy, but the reality is less romantic. The 36-foot-high concrete pylons cut a hulking 14.6-mile swath across some of Bangkok's last remaining tree-lined avenues, transforming them into a darkly futuristic set from Blade Runner. In the heart of the Silom Road financial district, the towering station literally blocks out the sky. And the number of drivers deterred from using their cars is unlikely to reduce Bangkok's thick pollution.
Aesthetic and environmental considerations aside, the mass transit system gives the amorphous metropolis a much-needed semblance of structure. Guests at the riverside hotels such as The Oriental and The Peninsula can now embark at the station adjacent to the Shangril-La Hotel and be at the Weekend Market, the downtown convention center, or the Emproium shopping mall in less time than it once took to inch forward half a block. And for the business traveler, Bangkok (or at least the area served by the Skytrain) becomes more like other international capitals--the ones where you can schedule a series of daily appointments without worrying if you'll be able to keep them.
Copyright © 2002 Jennifer Gampell